Mike Hess giving a speech.
Mike Hess | Founder & Executive Director

After 20 years as a tech veteran managing 7-figure projects for Fortune 500 companies, one thing troubled Mike: he was always the token blind guy. Knowing that the invaluable skills he developed because of his blindness were the keys to his success, he couldn’t understand why unemployment amongst the BVI community was so high. He embarked on a journey to change corporate America’s stigmas and misperceptions of BVI professionals, developing Blind Institute of Technology. Using the same skills that made him a success in IT, Mike has built partnerships and placed BVI professionals in Fortune 500 companies nationwide. 

Mike has been featured in the Denver Post and the Denver Business Journal and has been honored with the 2017 Martin Luther King, Jr. Business Award and the 2019 GlobalMindED Inclusive Leader Award. BIT’s focus on accessible technology garnered invitations to present at Google Cloud Next 2019 and Salesforce’s Dreamforce 2019 conference. Mike is a co-host for Choose Inclusion, a podcast addressing the benefits of diversity and inclusion. In 2019, Mike’s vision of full access for BVI led him to develop EdgGuide, a navigation system that allows independent navigation in previously inaccessible public spaces.

Natalie standing with Mike.
Natalie Hess | Chief Connections Officer

Natalie Suzanne Hess has spent her life giving back. She went to school to become a Licensed Practical Nurse. She has spent multiple years giving back to the elderly and volunteering at school for all three of her children. Support for the Blind Institute of Technology comes naturally to her, as she is passionate about helping the blind and visually impaired community. As Chief Connections Officer, she maintains relationships on both client and candidate sides of the organization.

Headshot of Cala.
Cala Estes | Director of Professional Services

Cala has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her background is in human resources and customer support using the Salesforce platform. In addition to working with BIT candidates, her work includes Salesforce administrator duties to support the organization. Cala’s favorite part of her position with BIT is talking to candidates about their goals and finding ways to achieve them.

In her free time, Cala enjoys gaming and reading long epic fantasy novels. She also enjoys cooking and white water rafting in the summer months. When not at her computer, she can be found visiting local businesses in search of good food. Cala shares her home with her fiancé, a friendly black lab, and a cat who came all the way from Texas to find his forever home.

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Kristy Schenderlein | Director of Talent

Kristy began working with BIT as a PR and Marketing contractor last summer and is now our Director of Talent. She brings years of experience navigating the waters of the business world as a blind and visually impaired professional. After earning her bachelor’s degree in Communication from the University of Wyoming, Kristy began a 15-year career as a paralegal, specializing in defense litigation. In 2007, she embarked on an adventure with her husband as a small-business owner of a local hardware store where she built the Human Resources department from the ground up. Deciding to pursue her passion for advocating for the blind and visually impaired, especially in the area of employment, Kristy was introduced to BIT and fell in love with its mission. She considers it a privilege to help talented BVI advance their professional careers and educate corporate America on the value BVI bring to the workplace. Outside the office, Kristy can usually be found watching her daughter play softball, camping with her family or generally enjoying the beautiful Colorado outdoors!

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Brad Rikard | Salesforce Administrator, Head of Education

Brad, who is legally blind, received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Clemson University, where he became well versed in academic research and statistics. His career began in financial services as an administrative assistant for a small startup in Denver, but he has since pivoted to the non-profit and tech fields as part of the BIT Team. During that transition, Brad obtained both Salesforce Administrator and IAAP CPACC certifications. Within BIT, Brad handles internal admin duties that help with sales efforts, partners with other non profits in improving and implementing their own Salesforce instance, and leads accessibility workshops from both diversity & inclusion and technical perspective

When he’s not working, Brad is an avid gym rat, park goer, beer taster, and audiobook connoisseur. He also occasionally dabbles in podcasts, video games, and yoga. Now after having been in Denver for a year since moving here in Fall 2019, Brad couldn’t imagine being anywhere else and is continuing to love the state he now calls home.

Michael, smiling
Michael Patellis | VP of Corporate Engagement | (770) 491-9857

Michael comes to BIT with over 20 years experience in building new revenue streams and strategic partnerships for advanced technologies in the datacenter, mobile, and streaming media industries. He is excited to combine his personal experience of being legally blind with his professional technology sales growth experience into his role at BIT. Michael will be focused on helping the organization exceed its goal of preparing and placing at least 10,000 blind individuals in meaningful careers.

Michael lives in Alpharetta, Georgia and loves having fun with his wife, Alison and two kids. He enjoys cooking, running, sports memorabilia, and most importantly, making people laugh. He received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Georgia in 1996. The most interesting fact about Michael (and his family) is that Michael and Alison’s daughter, Piper,  was born on Alison’s birthday and their son Nicholas was born on Michael’s birthday

Rebecca smiling
Rebecca Ledder | Salesforce Administrator

After growing up in Nebraska, Rebecca packed up her long white cane and moved halfway across the country to get a bachelor’s degree in Japanese from Georgetown University—and then halfway around the world to study abroad in Japan. After gaining some experience in the wholly unrelated fields of cane travel education and editing, she decided to apply the drive and creative problem-solving skills she developed from that diverse background to attending BIT’s Salesforce Academy. She is now one of the Salesforce consulting team’s certified admins, working to improve the efficiency of BIT’s org and to help other nonprofits develop their own instances of Salesforce to meet their unique needs. Since joining the team, she has helped pioneer BIT’s in-house paid internship program, applying her passion for education to helping candidates gain Salesforce work experience. She also provides web accessibility UX feedback from the perspective of a screen reader user.

Outside of work, Rebecca enjoys reading, linguistics, knitting, and various nerdy hobbies like tabletop board games. When the weather’s nice, she likes to canoe, hike, or go for tandem bike rides with her family. When it’s less nice, she can often be found curled up with a cozy blanket and a mug of her favorite tea or coffee.

Board of Directors

Headshot of Mark Vivien

Mark Vivien, Chairman | Analytics Modernization Solutions Executive, Great Data Minds

Headshot of Mike Naclerio

Mike Naclerio, Vice-Chairman | CEO & President, Enquiron

Headshot of UB Ciminieri

UB Ciminieri, Secretary | CMO & Chief Evangelist, InterviewIA

Headshot of Kristien (Crystal) Fischer

Kristien (Crystal) Fischer, Director, Brand & Communications | Vice-President of Marketing and Communications, Enquiron

Headshot of Lisa Neal-Graves

Lisa Neal-Graves, Director| CEO and President, Trustify Community, Inc.

Advisory Committee

Headshot of Brad Weydert

Brad Weydert | Managing Director, RJC Holdings, Inc

Headshot of Austin Stout

Austin Stout | RVP Portfolio Lead, Salesforce


Michael Kemp | Principal Consultant

Cooley LLP Colorado Team | Legal Services

about us footer

Blind Institute of Technology™ is a Denver-based nonprofit organization leading the charge to include disabled professionals in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives nationwide. Believing that the key to opportunity is through education, preparation and accessible technology, BIT aims to help professionals with disabilities, and the employers who hire them, find success in the workplace. Our vision is a world in which people with disabilities have the same employment opportunities as their peers.